Note to Reader: Purchasers of this package will get two CDs and a 55-minute DVD which includes interviews and extra concert footage. Only the two CDs were made available to the writer in the form of audio downloads; this review concentrates solely on that content.
That said, I’m tempted to offer this review as one word: Yes.
Still, it’s fair to say the main audience for this set will be established Yes fans wanting to add this short-lived incarnation of the group to their libraries. Recorded in Lyon, France on December 1, 2009, this concert features then-new lead singer, Benoit David, who fits perfectly into the expected group sound. Gratefully, his vocal range and delivery comes as close to those of Jon Anderson as anyone could ask. The rest of the band are founding fathers (at least of the group’s most popular lineup): Steve Howe (guitar), Chris Squire (bass), Alan White (drums), along with Oliver Wakeman (keyboards). (Wakeman left the group before its 2011 work with Geoff Downs.) Once again, the ensemble defines what classical-rock really means. The musicians are using rock instruments with modern pop vocals, but the listening experience is more like enjoying a good string quartet. At least it is on disc one.
The performance opens with paint-by-numbers versions of “Siberian Khatru” and “I’ve Seen All Good People,” the latter marred by some flat background vocals. After this warm-up, the group gets into a cruising flight mode with “Tempus Fugit” and “Astral Traveler” where all the players have their moments to solo. As with most of the selections on disc one, it’s a good reminder that Yes excels at clean, precise performances without need of melodramatic, flamboyant showpieces. In fact, three of the tracks are extremely low-key. Despite some quivering lead vocals, “Onward” is a lovely ensemble piece, “Yours is No Disgrace” is downright relaxing, and “Corkscrew” offers a change-of-pace acoustic guitar solo from Howe.
Then it’s disc two and now’s the time to turn the speakers up after everyone has gone to bed. Things kick off with a stand-out version of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” which leads into “South Side of the Sky.” Here, Wakeman shows his acoustic side on a simple piano passage before taking us back to the days when Yes helped popularize the synthesizer, back when another Wakeman was pioneering the progressive rock sound. From 1980, we get the standard “Machine Messiah” and Howe shows off diabolically good timing in “Heart of the Sunrise.” “Roundabout” is, well, “Roundabout.” Some things shouldn’t change. Nor should the encore, “Starship Trooper.”
So, in the end, if you like Yes, you won’t go anywhere you haven’t been before. While the concert is only two years old, it can’t fairly be said it’s “in the present” due to the change of keyboard players since then and that a new studio album was released in 2011 which isn’t represented in this show. Still, it’s good to hear a band that is 3/5 original members retracing what made them such a force all those years ago.
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